- By TOM WEAVER
Michael Hoey was born in London, England, the son of
character actor Dennis Hoey, best-known to film fans
as Inspector Lestrade of the Basil Rathbone/Sherlock
Holmes films. "I grew up in Beverly Hills and pretty
much just decided I wanted to be in the business,"
he recalls. "I started out in editing. Around 1959,
I read a book called The Monster from Earth's End
by Murray Leinster, which was the source for the film
that became Navy vs. the Night Monsters. I was
very taken with it and thought, 'Gee, this could be
an exciting film.' Hoey noted the similarities between
the story and Howard Hawks' classic The Thing From
Another World, a film he greatly admired. "I
managed to get an option on the book and I sat down
and wrote a screenplay [The Nightcrawlers] and tried
to peddle it around." Despite the post-production
tampering of producer Jack Broder, this story of a beleaguered
Navy crew and a handful of civilians, trapped on an
island with a flock of acid-spewing, man-eating plants,
has gone on to become a cult favorite.
MICHAEL HOEY: [Producer] George Edwards called
me and said, "I've read your script and I think
there's some interest in making it as a film. Would
you be interested in selling it to us? We don't have
a lot of money," and I said, "Well, what do
you have?" And he said, "Let me just ask you
one thing: Would you be interested in directing it?"
And I said, "You just said the magic words!"
I mean, if that was the case, they could get the film
for virtually nothing! Which is about what they got
it for. The whole "package" for the screenplay
and my services as a director I think came to $10,000.
Four thousand went to Murray Leinster, $2,000 went to
the Directors Guild, another thousand went to my agent.
I didn't exactly get fat on it! But it was my first
picture, and I was excited about that. Jack Broder,
who was the executive producer, retitled it The Navy
vs. the Night Monsters, which is an abominable title.
I remember the day when I was rehearsing and Jack Broder
walked in and announced what the new title was going
to be. The entire cast was ready to walk out. They were
furious that he would give it that title.
Jack had enough money that he decided he wanted to
make two films back-to-back. He had this script in mind
and he had another project called Women of the Prehistoric
Planet. They actually planned to shoot them literally
with the same crews, back-to-back. George Edwards was
hired as the "line producer" for the two films,
but he really was much more than a line producer, he
was really a creative producer. George was a terrific
guy. He was a good producer who tried to keep things
away from you while you were on the set; keep the picture
moving forward smoothly; keep oil on the waters. And
at the same time make creative decisions that made sense,
which was the antithesis of what Jack Broder did.
did Broder make so many changes and shoot so many extra
scenes after you "wrapped"?
MICHAEL: Broder had said to me, "I need
a 90-minute picture" and I delivered him a 78-minute
film. I didn't really believe that it had to be 90 minutes
[for him] to sell it to television, which is what he
was maintaining. So, when I left the picture, he had
Arthur Pierce, the director of Women of the Prehistoric
Planet, come in and shoot added scenes. Well, what
Arthur did was not just shoot added scenes, but change
the whole premise. He added all those scenes of those
navy officers in that base on the mainland. It completely
ruined the premise of what I had in mind.
Any memories of the cast?
MICHAEL: It was a terrific cast. After Father
Knows Best, Billy Gray had sort of been having a
tough time; he straightened his act out but was still
having trouble getting back. So they made an offer and
he accepted. Ed Faulkner I asked for; I thought he'd
be very good playing the heavy. He was a big John Wayne
co-star -- he did The Green Berets and a whole
bunch of other films. There are also two "Memphis
Mafia" guys in it, [Elvis Presley hangers-on] Sonny
West and Red West. Sonny is the sailor who's standing
guard on the plane when he's killed, and Red and Sonny
both were a couple of the firemen who put on fire suits
and go out to meet the plane when it crash-lands. Pamela
Mason had a talk show in town at that point, and of
course was James Mason's ex-wife. Somebody said, "We'll
give her the part, and maybe she'll do a little publicity
for the picture." It wasn't a big role, so I had
no real strong feelings about it. She obviously felt
that it was beneath her, but she was a pro and she did
what I asked her to.
Tony Eisley [Lt. Charlie Brown] and I knew one another
at Warner Brothers while I was producing there, and
he was doing Hawaiian Eye. His name came up in
a casting session. He was not our first choice, I was
hoping to get a bigger name, but when it became evident
that we couldn't and his name came up, I said I thought
he would be an excellent choice. I knew he could do
a good job, and I thought he did an excellent job.
What about Mamie Van Doren?
MICHAEL: Roger Corman was a sort of a "secret
partner" in this, and he had a commitment with
Mamie, so he sold off the commitment to Jack Broader
and I "inherited" Mamie. There was a wonderful
incident: Mamie was supposed to be a navy nurse. When
it came time to do the costuming, the wardrobe person,
George Edwards and I got together and we looked at pictures
of navy nurse uniforms and said, "That's fine."
Then I got a phone call from George saying Mamie wanted
us to come to the house 'cause she'd like to discuss
wardrobe. Okay, fine, up we go -- and Mamie has had
all these costumes made. And they look like pinafores!
She came out in this one outfit with these deep pockets
on this pinafore and she said, "See, it's very
functional. I can keep all my thermometers in here."
I was biting my tongue. I was not angry, I was absolutely
ready to burst into laughter! It got to a point where
she said, "I will not wear the uniform." So
we eventually arrived at a compromise where I said,
"We'll make her a civilian." I wasn't a fool,
so I put her in a tight sweater and a pair of slacks
for about 50 percent of the time. Actually, Mamie tried
very hard. We worked hard on a couple of the scenes,
to try to get a performance out of her, and she was
terrific. She certainly did everything that I asked
her to do.
Were you satisfied with the trees?
MICHAEL: No. Jack Broder wouldn't hire the guy
that we originally had meetings with, a guy who could
have done a marvelous job. In 1965, we were certainly
far more limited with our technology than we are today,
but there were people around who were capable of doing
decent jobs. I wanted the [monster] trees to look like
the other trees, so that there wouldn't be the feeling
that they stood out like sore thumbs, which is what
those stupid things did. Broder hired some guy who did
them for $1.98. When they showed up on the set the first
day, I refused to film them, I was so upset. A lot of
what happened at the back end of the movie, like the
little stumps walking around in the sand, was stuff
that Jon Hall shot. I had nothing to do with it.
MICHAEL: Yes, the famous Jon Hall from The
Hurricane . In later years, he had a production
company, and apparently he made a deal with Broder and
he went out and shot more stuff. The only tree that
I worked with was the one that had the guy in it manipulating
the limbs, which is the one that has the fight with
the pilot. We shot it in pretty low-key light, to try
to hide as much of it as we possibly could.
a good segue into Stanley Cortez, whose photography
and lighting of the picture were very good.
MICHAEL: Oh, he was marvelous. I thought, "Boy,
how am I gonna relate with the guy who did The Magnificent
Ambersons?" He never was anything but terrific.
Between the time that you bought the rights to the story
and the time you made the movie, a movie called The
Day of the Triffids came out. What did you think
MICHAEL: Well, that was a much more expensive
movie than mine. You have to remember that Night
Monsters in 1965, was a 10-day shooting schedule,
with a union crew, and it came in for $178,000.
You can definitely see the makings of a good science-fiction
picture in the footage you shot.
MICHAEL: It broke my heart when I looked at
it again not too long ago and I saw all that crap [that
Broder and Arthur Pierce added] -- that ridiculous blowing-up-the-balloons
scene at the beginning and all the stuff on the plane
[at the beginning] and all the stuff [with the trees]
at the end. Not only were they bad, but they took away
from the moments that I had tried to create. What's
amazing to me is that suddenly it's become sort of a
Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and
Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie
Makers and many others available from McFarland